Anemone Canadensis: Growing Windflower Ground Cover

Anemone canadensis is native to river margins, river flood plains, and low moist meadows, making it a wonderful flowering ground cover plant for your garden. It’s also known as Canada anemone, meadow anemone or round-leaf anemone.

As the name itself suggests, Anemone canadensis is cultivated throughout southern Canada and Northern America. Let’s explore how best to care for this gorgeous and fast-growing ground cover!

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Quick Care

Anemone canadensis in its natural habitat
Anemone canadensis in its natural habitat. Source: Kerry D Woods
Common Name(s): Canada anemone, windflower, meadow anemone, round-leaf thimbleweed
Scientific NameAnemone canadensis
Family:Ranunculaceae
Zone:3-8
Height & Spread:1-2′ tall by 2-3′ wide
LightPartial shade to full sun
SoilMoist, well-draining, humusy soil.
Water:Medium to high
Pests & Diseases:Foliar nematodes, caterpillars, flea beetles, slugs, leaf spot, downy & powdery mildew, rust

All About Canada Anemone

Windflower has bright green foliage and small, eye-catching white flowers. Native to North America, it’s found from Canada south well into the United States. Tribal people used the roots and leaves of this plant medicinally. It’s a common sight in moist meadows or along streambanks.

A vigorous grower, it’s not considered an invasive but can rapidly spread. Its underground rhizome system will stretch to encompass large areas. If not managed, it will take over your yard! Be sure you keep yours in check.

The name anemone is Greek in origin, a reference to the nymph Anemone from mythology. Zephyr, the god of the west wind, was obsessed with Anemone. Zephyr’s wife, Flora, got quite angry and turned Anemone into a flower. Not only was Anemone changed, her flower would only open when touched by the god of the north wind, Borealis. Anemone means “windflower”, and that appelation has stuck!

The term canadensis refers to its North American origins. Sometimes referred to as Canada anemone, it’s widespread throughout that country. It’s also called crowfoot, meadow anemone, or roundleaf anemone.

With this species, taller stems may need some support. In shaded locations, the long flower stems may flop over. But it’s a great choice for a wildflower bed, and produces flowers from April through June.

Caring For Your Windflower

A close-up of the gorgeous, white flowers
A close-up of the gorgeous, white flowers. Source

This is a simple plant that’s pretty low maintenance… well, except for ensuring it doesn’t spread where you don’t want it to be! Let’s go over the perfect conditions for your windflowers.

Light

Full sun to partial shade is good for these lovely little wildflowers. Hotter environments really need the partial shade, particularly in the hot afternoons. Cooler climates allow for full sun conditions year-round. But most people will find it performs best in partial shade!

Growing zones 3-8 are ideal for this plant. Once you start getting into the higher zones, the plant has a tendency to wilt in the sun. It may still be grown, but might not form the large colonies that it would in cooler regions.

Water

In its natural habitat, the Canada anemone gravitates towards moist soils. Often found along riverbanks, in damp meadows, or alongside of lakes, it likes to have ample water. If you keep the soil moist, it’ll be thrilled.

During the spring rainy season, even oversaturated conditions are fine. This is when the plant comes springing to life, sending up long, thin flower stems. But try to avoid oversaturation for extended periods of time. While the rhizomes can take wet conditions, they do eventually need to breathe!

Mulching around your plants may reduce watering requirements. The mulch will prevent soil moisture from evaporating as fast.

Soil

If given a choice, windflower thrives best in moist, humusy soils. It’s tolerant of a wide array of soil types, even sandy or gooey clay soils. But it loves rich, damp soil filled with decomposing organic matter.

Aim for a blend which can hold water on its own, but allows excess moisture to drain off readily. In containers, that’s really easy to do – most good commercial potting blends will work just fine. Garden beds which have a high clay content perform better when amended to break up the clay. Loose, well-aerated soils are a plus.

Fertilizer

Technically speaking, fertilizer isn’t required for the meadow anemone. As a wildflower, it’s accustomed to finding what it needs on its own! An annual spreading of compost will provide plenty of fertilization. Avoid monthly feedings, as too much fertilizer can trigger your plant to spread fast.

Propagation

Propagation should be from root cuttings or from seed.

The rhizomatic roots can be divided in the early spring or in the fall. Make sure each rhizome cutting is several inches long, and place them a foot apart at a depth of a half inch.

During the summer, the seeds can be collected. Windflower seeds are rounded with a beak at one side, and form in the center of the flower. Harvest the whole flowers into a paper bag and allow the flowers to dry fully before separating seed.

Seeds can take a while to germinate. Start your seeds indoors in the late winter. A seedling heat mat may be of use to warm your potting mix for germination purposes.

Pruning

Once the flowers have faded, deadhead them. If harvesting seed, snip the flowers into a paper bag. Remove the stalk down to where it vanishes into the foliage.

If your plant is spreading more rapidly than planned, consider dividing the rhizomes. You can use a sharp and clean shovel to cut down through the soil and root structure. Then, simply remove any rhizomes that you don’t wish to continue to spread. You can replant these in other locations or dispose of them in a compost pile.

Thinning your plant can be done for cosmetic appearance, but is not necessary for its growth.

Problems

Quick and easy care video for this prolific ground cover.

Meadow anemone will grow itself, but it’s far from trouble-free. A selection of pests find it appetizing, and it does have a few disease issues. But on the bright side, it also draws in beneficial insects! Let’s go over what problems you may face and how to resolve them.

Growing Problems

Do you find that your flowers are flopping over? If so, your plant may be craving a little more light in its placement. While it isn’t harmful, and the flowers will still bloom, extra light keeps them cheery and upright.

Air circulation can become an issue with these plants in two different ways. The dense growth can block airflow through the foliage. And yet, if there’s too much airflow, it can knock over the slender flower stems or break them. Keep your plants in an area which is sheltered from wind, but prune as needed to ensure good airflow around them.

Pests

The most common pests on your windflowers are fairly common ones… with one exception. Let’s talk about those!

A variety of caterpillars will feast on the leaves of your plant. Using a powdered or liquid form of bacillus thurigiensis on the plant is your best bet. The munching monsters will rapidly die off.

Flea beetles are also fairly common. Not to be confused with fleas, these beetles will cause severe damage to your plant’s foliage. Yellowing of leaves and skeletonizing of leaves is common. Spinosad or pyrethrin-based sprays will get rid of them.

Slugs not only leave slimy trails through your windflowers, but they eat the foliage. Use a quality snail and slug bait to lure them away and poison them.

While most nematodes are soil-dwellers, there is a type which does attack foliage. These foliar nematodes can become a problem on anemone canadensis. Unfortunately, there are no nematicides designed for residential use. Plants that experience issues from foliar nematodes should be removed and destroyed.

One bright note: deer, which are normally a problem for gardeners, don’t like the taste of this plant. Your anemone canadensis is safe from grazing deer!

Diseases

Diseases are also relatively common in this native plant. Thankfully, they’re all treatable. Let’s talk anemone disease!

Downy mildew is caused by a fungus that lives in the soil. Overhead watering can splash it up onto the leaves, where it forms what looks like grey mold. Neem oil can help prevent it from taking hold on the leaves. Once established, use a copper-based fungicide to clear it up. Remove any damaged leaves before spraying.

Powdery mildew‘s also caused by a soilborne fungus. Unlike downy mildew, it appears as a whitish powder on the leaf surfaces. You can treat this common plant disease with neem oil quite effectively.

Some types of bacterial leaf spot may plague your plant. Use a copper based fungicide to stop its spread. Opt for a biofungicide to try to kill off the bacteria causing the problem if you’d prefer.

Finally, rust can cause white or grey patches on leaves. Over time, these develop orangish spore masses and can spread. It’s important to fight this problem as soon as it’s discovered. Both copper fungicides and biofungicides are effective against rust.

Frequently Asked Questions

Anemone canadensis aka windflower
Anemone canadensis is a fast-growing, moderately easy plant. Source: Kerry D Woods

Q. What are the garden uses of Canadian anemone?

A. People who have ponds, streams, or other water features love this plant. It thrives near these moist environments. It’s also suitable for large spaces where a tall (1-2 foot) plant can provide erosion control.

In beds and pots, it can be used as an effective tall plant as well. Since it does spread, it’s important to keep close watch on where it’s placed, as it will continue to creep outward. But if you’ve got a large patch of land you want a tall ground cover on, this will work for you!

Q. Is anemone canadensis poisonous?

A. Most anemone species contain caustic irritants. These can cause skin irritation, so wear gloves and long pants/long sleeves while pruning. Do not eat any part of anemone canadensis, as it is toxic to humans in large doses. It can irritate your mouth and throat, and cause diarrhea and vomiting in smaller doses.

While some tribal groups did use it traditionally as medicine, its use is very limited in scope. I highly recommend speaking with a doctor or a skilled herbalist before use.

Q. How aggressive is Canada anemone?

A. In the right environment, windflowers are considered “aggressive natives”. They do rapidly spread, and are often found in the wild in large colonies. Moist meadowland, lake and stream banks, and the like are common environments.

Since they spread via rhizomes under the soil’s surface, it can be hard to gauge where they’re going. If you want to sequester them in a given area, use a deep garden edging that goes at least 6-8″ under the soil’s surface.


This fast-growing windflower will really liven up your empty spaces. Anemone canadensis provides an abundance of wildflowers to entice pollinators. It can verge on invasive if you don’t keep it in check, but if maintained will be a wonderful landscape plant!


The Green Thumbs Behind This Article:

Kevin Espiritu
Founder

Lorin Nielsen
Lifetime Gardener

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